Qasr Al Hosn to become ‘cultural heart’ of Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI // Strolling through historic streets, sipping coffee and enjoying the leafy surroundings as musicians play for the crowds.
This image will soon be reality for Abu Dhabi residents and tourists who have welcomed news that the site of Qasr Al Hosn, the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi and longtime home to the ruling Al Nahyan family, will undergo a year-long renovation.
The masterplan features the conservation of the site and National Consultative Council and the preservation of the Cultural Foundation buildings.
The plan will also entail wider development of the surrounding area, said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi.
“The 400 square metre site will become a cultural park-scape, landscaped with indigenous plants and trees including palms and ghaf trees,” he said.
“Alongside the annual festival, the site will play host to concerts, exhibitions and cultural events, with new cafes and gathering spaces for residents and tourists alike, to enjoy the space.
“It will be reinstated as the cultural heart of the city and people from across the nation will be drawn by its appeal.
“Blending modernity alongside the emirate’s maritime and desert heritage, the buildings on either side contrast the Abu Dhabi of today, with that of its past.”
Qasr Al Hosn was built in 1760 as a watchtower to defend the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island.
The tower was later expanded and took its present shape after a major extension into the palace.
Following conservation work in the 1970s and 1980s, it was turned into a museum displaying archaeological collections, artefacts and pictures representing the history of Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf area.
A new, permanent exhibition at the Qasr Al Hosn Centre tells the story of Abu Dhabi and its people through the building.
Dr Cody Morris Paris, associate professor of tourism and deputy director of Middlesex University Dubai, said the plans were hugely significant for Qasr Al Hosn, “an iconic heritage attraction of significant cultural and historical importance”.
“With Qasr Al Hosn at the centre, the development plans of the wider surrounding cultural quarter will continue to transform the area into a destination that engages and educates citizens, residents, and tourists and provides visitors with an authentic experience of Emirati culture, heritage, pride and identity,” he said.
Indian expat Nicole Simoes, 24, grew up studying in the Cultural Foundation library, which was demolished several years ago.
“I love the idea of opening the space to residents again,” she said. “Abu Dhabi needs a space like it, something new and different with a hint of local heritage.”
Mahmoud Manna, 24, a Jordanian engineer has lived in Abu Dhabi since birth. He said he looked forward to the city having a focal point.
“The re-opened space will bring back that feeling we had growing up in Abu Dhabi,” he said.
“The location of Al Hosn is exactly in the centre of the island, which also means easy access for all residents in Abu Dhabi and a place for a nice walk, which is exactly what we need.”
British expat, David Fox, 50, welcomed the more traditional space to spend time.
“There are not enough places in Abu Dhabi like a cultural village, so it is great to have one, but we seriously don’t need more cafés,” he said.
“The likes of Starbucks and Costa would ruin what the fort is trying to bring back. I hope they have traditional restaurants with traditional food.”
Italian expat and parent, Shahnaz Bazliel, 46, said the area help expats better connect with local culture.
“Most expats here do not have their family and friends to fall back on to nourish a child’s curiosity about where they live and how it all came together,” she said.
“A lot of residents are raised here still have very little local knowledge. I hope there will be a rotation of cultural events there like basket making, cooking lessons and story telling that proves to be a perfect day out for the family.”
Saif Al Qaydi, professor of economic geography at UAE University, said the site would draw in tourists, a major area of development as Abu Dhabi diversifies its economy.
“Qasr Al Hosn is an important centre for people to learn about the culture of the UAE, which is a very rich culture, from its farming to its fishing culture, but very few people coming to the UAE know about that.”
He said such developments lead to new infrastructure which benefits the city, from transport to roads.
Though it will inevitably cause some disruption, as areas around the site even are upgraded, he said: “Any new project might cause some disturbances for the people used to using certain routes but using new technology and planning theories, it’s getting easier to minimise these.”